Andy Cahan’s book is called The Most Famous Musician You’ve Never Heard Of—a title that at first seems somewhat ridiculous … but makes total sense when you get to know about Cahan and his career.
The keyboardist and Coachella Valley resident has, for more than 50 years, collaborated and had dealings with an incredible list of stars, musicians and bands, including the Beatles, the Turtles and many others that weren’t named after creatures. During a recent interview, he discussed the development of his love of music.
“I was making monster movies when I was 13 and 14 years old, and I really loved classical music,” Cahan said. “I would use ‘The Flying Dutchman: Overture,’ and ‘The Rite of Spring’ and ‘New World Symphony’ for the music for my monster movies. My sister came up to me and said, ‘You’ve got to watch The Ed Sullivan Show tonight; there’s a group called the Beatles.’ Of course, that changed my life radically. I wanted to become a Beatle the next day, so I started learning how to play the drums, learning how to play the keyboards—and I taught myself a whole bunch of Beatles songs just by listening to the records.
“I started my own band called The Individuals, and we actually recorded in New York City at A&R studios with Roy Cicala, a famous engineer who started the Record Plant, and recorded John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo and George Harrison.”
A move from New York to Los Angeles offered Cahan “the major introduction to celebrity musicians,” he said.
“Two weeks after I moved to California, I worked in a record company called Pulsar Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records,” Cahan said. “The artists on that label were Graham Bond, Dr. John the Night Tripper and some others. I was invited to go to a recording session at TTG Studios in Hollywood in September 1968. It was Mitch Mitchell on drums, Jack Cassidy from Jefferson Airplane on bass, Lowell George from Little Feat on the flute, and Graham Bond was on the Hammond B3. I was setting up my Baldwin electric harpsichord, and in walks Jimi Hendrix with two blondes—one carrying his amp, and one carrying his guitar—and we jammed the blues in A for a couple hours. It was the most amazing thing ever. Here I was in the studio with all these amazing icons, and I was 20 years old. It was a great introduction.”
Cahan’s credits and collaborations are wide-ranging, but he was a semi-consistent part of The Turtles, from 1973 to 2019.
“I co-founded a band called Geronimo Black, featuring Jimmy Carl Black and Bunk Gardner from the Mothers of Invention,” Cahan said. “Through Jimmy, I got to meet Mark Volman (Flo) and Howard Kaylan (Eddie), because Frank Zappa was rehearsing for the movie 200 Motels, and Jimmy played the part of Lonesome Cowboy Burt, and Mark and Howard were singing background vocals. Later on, I was doing some overdubs at Cherokee Studios in Topanga Canyon, and Little Richard was there, and Flo and Eddie were there. Flo and Eddie wanted to go on the road, but their keyboard player, Bruce Robb, was the engineer in the studio, so he couldn’t go. Mark Volman said, ‘Are you available to go on the road?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ I started working with the Turtles in 1973, and I worked with them for 46 years, and recorded a whole bunch of albums and toured Australia and New Zealand and Europe. It was an amazing career, because through Flo and Eddie, I met everybody I ever wanted to meet in the music world.”
Cahan refers to his experiences meeting and working with the members of The Beatles as highlights of a star-studded career.
“The Beatles were the reason I really decided to become a musician full time, and when I moved out to California in ‘68, I had a premonition: I was sitting on my harpsichord, and I was daydreaming that a Beatle was in my house, sitting next to me with his shoes off,” Cahan said. “… Then in 1991, Harry Nilsson brought Ringo Starr over to my living room to record some children’s stories. It was a very hot day, and we had to turn off the air conditioner, so Ringo took the shoes off, and he sat down right next to me to do the vocals on these recordings—so my premonition came true.
“I worked a lot with Harry, and I would visit Harry in the hospital after his first heart attack. He would tell me to go to the store and buy some chocolate, which was against the doctor’s orders, but I would sneak in some chocolate for him. We did some more recording, and then unfortunately, he had a second heart attack, and he passed away, which was very, very sad. George Harrison was at his funeral, and George Harrison and I walked to the gravesite while everybody else drove their cars. I said, ‘George, my name is Andy Cahan,’ and he said, ‘Oh, Harry spoke very highly of you.’ And that made my day. I couldn’t believe it.
“I met Paul McCartney at Universal Studios. Paul did an interview with 40 radio stations at the Universal Amphitheatre, and I was with Flo and Eddie from the Turtles. They had their own radio show on K-Rock in New York after Howard Stern, and Paul was being asked questions, and Mark Volman raised his hand to ask a question. Paul recognized Mark and Howard; when The Turtles (released) “Happy Together” in 1967, they went to England, and they met the Beatles. Paul gets off the stage and walks up these bleachers to where we are sitting and shakes our hands, so that was when I met Paul.”
Cahan was able to assemble all these various tales from his long and storied career, because he saves everything.
“I’ve saved every calendar since 1960,” said Cahan. “Every photograph, every album, every tape, every sticker, every contract, every letter, every postcard—I saved it all. Finally, I said to myself, ‘Holy moly; I’ve got so much stuff here.’ I scanned it, and I assembled it. I used up my entire living room floor with all these manila folders with different categories of photos and contracts. It took me four years, but I literally built the book by speaking into my cell phone and talking about all of these photos and events. I got Jeff Tamarkin, world-famous editor of Goldmine magazine, to edit my book, and he did a fantastic job. It’s a 2 1/2-pound coffee-table picture book, with thousands of unseen photographs.
“I named the book The Most Famous Musician You’ve Never Heard Of, because there are hundreds of celebrity musicians and actors that I worked with. I never became a millionaire, but I surely hung out with everybody.”
For more information on Andy Cahan and his book, visit allentertainment.net.